Here at Flashback Universe we’d like to start discussing comics in the past tense, in addition to our present and future tense articles. To that end we’re continuing a new feature we’re calling Lost Universes. We’ll discuss properties, imprints, lines, and characters from comic book universes that are no longer actively putting out books such as Valiant, the Ultraverse, Comics Greatest World and others. More to the point, we’ll be examining what made those publishers and their lines interesting, unique and great...
Today we’ll continue our overview of some of the universes we’ll be covering over the course of this series, there will be more than we have space to list here today & please we encourage you to give us your feedback, leave us a comment, hit us up on twitter , or drop us an email and suggest any universes you’d really like us to cover.
With this post we’re discussing comic books being published in the eighties for the most part, in what we'll call "pre-comics boom"…
"The Comic Company was an American comic book publisher, headquartered in Norristown, Pennsylvania. Its best-known comics include the Robotech adaptations, the Jonny Quest continuation, and Matt Wagner's Mage: The Hero Discovered and Grendel. Once considered a major contender on the American market, Comico went into bankruptcy in 1990, although it continued to sporadically publish books until 1997."~wikipedia.org
NOTE: Comico has since established a webcomic site entitled CO2 that seems to be little more than host to scanned pages of its original print offerings as of this date.
What I find interesting about Comico is that, unlike the other publishers we've listed/discussed so far in this series, Comico was a very nondescript company by all accounts. Who's to say if this helped or hurt them but Comico was not the "biggest" publisher with 80M print runs, they didn't have a cohesive universe voted best "anything", they didn't have any television programs or movies based off of any of their original products (I don't think the Rocketeer counts here - that will be explained in another post) & they didn't hire huge named "out of the market" talent to come and create for them. What Comico did do, and do well, was pretty much a little bit of everything. They licensed properties, took advantage of the still new direct market to offer creator books that they could own, and allowed grittier storytelling without the seal of the comics code (just like all of the other publishers at the time).
"First Comics is an American comic-book publisher that was active from 1983–1991, known for titles like American Flagg!, Grimjack, Nexus, Badger, Dreadstar, and Jon Sable. Based in Evanston, Illinois, First Comics launched with a line-up of creators including Frank Brunner, Mike Grell, Howard Chaykin, Joe Staton, Steven Grant, Timothy Truman, and Jim Starlin." ~wikipedia.org
What was great about First Comics was how they gave the Marvel & DC fans exactly what they wanted: to bust out of the distilled pure archetypes & tropes that had been followed (nearly) to the letter for years up until then and really have fun with the characters and situations in a way that we hadn't really been able to do yet. There was real sex & violence in books like FLAGG & JON SABLE, seemingly real psychosis in Badger and a different kind of science fiction, yet to be really explored in comics, with NEXUS & DREADSTAR.
"Eclipse was an American comic book publisher, one of several independent publishers during the 1980s and early 1990s, that published such comics as; Scout, Skywolf, Zot!, The Rocketeer, The Hobbit, Espers, The DNAgents, Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters, & Airboy. Eclipse was known for its eclectic mix of titles and products. Many noteworthy creators got their start or did early work there, including Chuck Austen, Donna Barr, Dan Brereton, Chuck Dixon, James Hudnall, Scott McCloud, Peter Milligan, Tim Truman, and Chris Ware. Veterans published by Eclipse include Steve Englehart, Don McGregor, Gene Colan and Mark Evanier." ~wikipedia.org
Much the way Chaos! had a large hand in the creation of another theme that took place in the "Comics Boom" (bad girls) Eclipse ushered in the first Graphic Novel to comic book shops in the direct market and largely created non-sports inspired trading cards. With such a long list of top notch creators and comics Eclipse truly did have something for everyone amongst their offerings. So much so that Eclipse may need a post all on it's own.
"Pacific Comics was an independent comic book publisher that flourished from 1981-1984. It was also a chain of comics shops and a distributor. It began out of a San Diego, California, comic book shop owned by brothers & really became the template for what Image comics would become. Pacific published such titles as; Starslayer, The Rocketeer, Groo, Elrick & characters created by Jack Kirby."~wikipedia.org
Noticing a pattern? How many publishing companies actually published The Rocketeer, Flagg, & Starslayer anyway (that's an entire post by it self)? As the comic book industry began cresting out of the 80's and into the 90's one element, more than any other, helped usher in the "Comics Boom" and that was distribution to a Direct Market of comic book fans. This was a fact that: Pacific, First, Now, and a few others capitalized on right away atracting known creators from larger mainstream publishing companies to come and create comics for them where the comics code wouldn't come into play and ownership of the "rights" would. Creators would own their characters and situations.
What was interesting about Pacific was that they were simply looking for more comics to put on the shelves of the comic book stores they'd opened. Unable to find enough for their tastes they began soliciting creators to make comics directly for them all the while juggling both a "publishing" arm with a "distribution" arm that was more than likely the biggest contributor to their demise which saw creators (who owned their creations) exporting their books to other publishers who weren't so intertwined in the industry once the strength of the distribution arm came into question. Much like a bank that goes under because everyone was afraid they would & began pulling their money out due to that fear (regardless of whether they would have really gone under or not) Pacific's publishing reign came to an end as creators from the publishing arm fled the distribution arm for fear of it's collapse.
Have a nice weekend,